The MAXI TRIAL (Italian: MAXIPROCESSO) was a criminal trial against
Sicilian prosecutors indicted 475 mafiosi for a multitude of crimes relating to Mafia activities, based primarily on testimonies given as evidence from former Mafia bosses turned informants, known as pentiti , in particular Tommaso Buscetta and Salvatore Contorno . Most were convicted to life imprisonment and, to the surprise of many, the convictions were upheld in January 1992, after the final stage of appeal. The importance of the trial was that the existence of Cosa Nostra was finally judicially confirmed.
It's considered to be the most important trial against Sicilian Mafia and the biggest trial ever held in the world.
* 1 Preceding events * 2 Location and defendants * 3 Trial * 4 Verdicts * 5 Appeals * 6 Aftermath * 7 References * 8 Bibliography * 9 Further reading * 10 External links
The existence and crimes of the Mafia had been denied or merely downplayed by many people in authority for decades, despite proof of its criminal activities dating back to the 19th century. This can be attributed in part to three particular methods used by the Mafia to provide an environment akin to near immunity—paying off key people, killing real or perceived leaks in their own organization, and threatening or even killing key people (judges, lawyers, witnesses, politicians) were used successfully to keep many prosecution efforts at bay. In fact it was only in 1980 that it was first seriously suggested that being a member of the Mafia should be a specific criminal offence by Communist politician Pio La Torre . The law only came into effect two years later—after La Torre had been gunned down for making that very suggestion.
During the early 1980s, the
Second Mafia War
The groundwork for the
LOCATION AND DEFENDANTS
The Maxi trial took place next to the Ucciardone, Palermo's massive nineteenth-century Bourbon prison, in a bunker specially designed and built to try the defendants. It was a large octagonal building made from reinforced concrete that was able to withstand rocket attacks; inside there were cages built into the green walls holding the many defendants in large groups. There were over six hundred members of the press as well as many carabinieri wielding machine guns and a 24-hour air defense system keeping an eye on the defendants and would-be attackers attempting to thwart the efforts.
Never before in the history of the Mafia had so many Mafiosi been on
trial at the same time. A total of 475 defendants were facing charges,
although 119 of them were to be tried in absentia as they were
fugitives and still on the run (
After several years of investigating by the Antimafia pool, the trial began on 10 February 1986. The presiding judge was Alfonso Giordano, flanked by two other judges who were 'alternates', should anything fatal happen to Giordano before the end of what was to be a lengthy trial. The charges faced by the defendants included 120 murders , drug trafficking, extortion and, of course, the new law that made it an offence to be a member of the Mafia, the first time that law would be put to the test.
Judge Giordano won a lot of praise for remaining patient and fair during such a mammoth case with so many defendants. Some of the defendants indulged in disruptive and rather alarming behaviour, such as one who literally stapled his mouth shut to signify his refusal to talk, another who feigned madness by frequently screaming and fighting with guards even when he was in a straitjacket and one who threatened to cut his own throat if a statement of his was not read out to the court.
Most of the crucial evidence came from
Tommaso Buscetta , a Mafioso
captured in 1982 in
Some evidence was also presented posthumously from
Leonardo Vitale .
Although Buscetta is widely regarded as the first of the pentiti (and
was certainly the first to be taken seriously), back in 1973,
Leonardo Vitale had turned himself in at a
There were many critics of the Maxi Trial. Some implied that the defendants were being victimized as part of some sort of vendetta of the magistrates. The Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia said that: "There is nothing better for getting ahead in the magistracy than taking part in Mafia trials." Cardinal Pappalardo of the Catholic Church gave a controversial interview where he said that the Maxi Trial was "an oppressive show" and stated that abortion killed more people than the Mafia.
Other critics suggested that the word of informants—primarily Buscetta—was not the ideal way to judge other people, as even an informant who has truly repented is still a former criminal, liar and murderer and may still have a vested interest in modifying their testimony to suit their needs or even settle vendettas. It was also said that such a huge trial with so many defendants was not making allowances for the individuals, an attempt to "deliver justice in bulk" as one journalist put it.
The information that Buscetta gave judges Falcone and Borsellino was
highly important, and was termed 'The Buscetta Theorem', in that the
believability of his claims of the existence of the Mafia was central
to the case. Buscetta gave a new understanding to how the Mafia
functioned and how the clandestine groups of hierarchy in the Sicilian
The trial ended on 16 December 1987, almost two years after it commenced. The verdicts were announced at 7:30 pm and took an hour to read through.
Of the 474 defendants—both those present and those tried in
absentia—360 were convicted. 2,665 years of prison sentences were
shared out between the guilty, not including the life sentences handed
to the nineteen leading Mafia bosses and killers, including Michele
Giuseppe Marchese and—in absentia—
A number of those convicted in absentia were, unknown to the judiciary, deceased by the time of the verdicts. They included Filippo Marchese , Rosario Riccobono and Giuseppe Greco . Additionally Mario Prestifilippo was also on trial in absentia, but he was found shot dead in the streets while proceedings were still taking place.
A total of 114 defendants were acquitted, including
Luciano Leggio ,
who had been charged with helping to run the
The significant number of acquittals did manage to silence some of the critics who had believed that it was a show trial whereby nearly everyone would be convicted.
Of those who were acquitted, eighteen were later murdered by the Mafia, including one, Antoninio Ciulla , who was shot dead within an hour of being released as he drove home for a celebratory party.
By 1990, only 60 defendants remained behind bars, and many were not exactly doing hard-time, with several residing in prison hospitals and taking it easy while malingering with phantom illnesses. One convicted Mafioso had a private hospital ward to himself and had several common (non-Mafiosi) criminals as his servants, supposedly while suffering from a brain tumor that, suspiciously, did not show any symptoms whatsoever.
The final passage was the pronouncement of the Supreme Court of Cassation .
Corrado Carnevale , a judge suspected of being in the pay of the
Mafia, who was handed control over most of the appeals by the corrupt
Salvatore Lima , could be appointed to carry out the trial.
Carnevale was eventually nicknamed l'ammazza-sentenze—"The Sentence
Killer"—because of his tendency to overturn Mafia convictions for
technicalities. He threw out some drug-trafficking convictions, for
example, because wiretapped conversations presented as evidence
referred to the moving of "shirts" and "suits" instead of narcotics ,
even though it was well known that these were the codenames the
members of that particular drug-ring employed for narcotics. He also
released one Mafioso, who had been convicted of murder, on the grounds
of ill health. Despite being supposedly at death's door, the mobster
immediately fled to
However, Carnevale was not appointed as prosecutor and the final
decision on the
In January 1992, Falcone and Borsellino managed to take charge of
That summer, Falcone and Borsellino were murdered in audacious bomb attacks. This resulted in public revulsion and a major crackdown against the Mafia that seriously weakened the organization.
* ^ A B C Giovanni Falcone,
Paolo Borsellino and the Procura of
* Schneider, Jane T. ;background:none transparent;border:none;-moz-box-shadow:none;-webkit-box-shadow:none;box-shadow:none;">v
* t * e
CHAIN OF COMMAND
* Commission (Cupola)
* Family (
* Boss (Capofamiglia)
CODES AND TERMS
* First Mafia War (1961–1963)
Second Mafia War
MASSACRES AND BOMBINGS
Portella della Ginestra massacre